New Zealand looking increasingly weak on Russia

Nothing to see here. Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The crisis over the expulsion of Russian diplomats deepened as the Prime Minister was ridiculed around the world for not being able to find any spies to expel. Jacinda Ardern’s statement was reported in much of the world’s media and drew ridicule from experts, including a former KGB double-agent. Thomas Coughlan reports

Boris Karpichkov, a Former KGB agent told Newshub Ardern was either naive or misinformed if she thought there were no spies in New Zealand. Karpichkov believes he was himself targeted for assassination in Auckland.

He said there was likely a small number of spies connected to the Russian Embassy, most probably military personnel. Karpichkov said New Zealand was a “prime target”, as a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement with the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. Those countries have all found intelligence officers to expel. Karpichkov said New Zealand would be of particular interest as a potential weak link in the intelligence sharing chain.

Ardern has said she would expel undeclared Russian intelligence officials, if there were any.

“I am very happy to say that we did ask the question around those who fit the bill of what other countries have been expelling and we have no-one of that sort in New Zealand,” she said on Tuesday.

When asked by a journalist if New Zealand would expel diplomats out of solidarity, Ardern deflected and compared New Zealand to Australia and said that if we had similar agents here, we would expel them too.

She said the advice she had received from the NZSIS, which had been verified by New Zealand’s partners, was there were no spies in New Zealand. She said she believed our actions were consistent with our partners.

“If you’re seeking for me to randomly remove people who do not fit the criteria that our other partners have based their decisions on that would be inappropriate,” she said.
She said she had asked MFAT for advice on whether New Zealand could limit the issuing of visas to some Russian nationals.

This is broadly consistent with one of the justifications being used by Canada and Australia, both Five Eyes intelligence partners.

Australia has expelled two diplomats.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the expulsions were “for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna Conventions”.

Canada expelled four diplomats. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said intelligence officials “used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy,”

But alleged spying isn’t the only reason countries are expelling diplomats. Many are also saying their expulsions are an act of standing up for the rules-based international order — international law. The use of chemical weapons, and the violation of another country’s sovereignty by conducting an assassination on its soil are both clear violations of this.

Turnbull added that the expulsions were not just about limiting Russia’s intelligence gathering capabilities.

“This latest incident has demanded a response and has received a concerted international response from the United Kingdom’s allies and partners around the world,” Turnbull said.

“To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and prosperity rely,” he said.

In Canada, Freeland said “the nerve agent attack represents a clear threat to the rules-based international order and to the rules that were established by the international community to ensure chemical weapons would never again destroy human lives”.

New Zealand is usually quick to stand up for the rules-based international order. In Winston Peters’ first major foreign policy speech as part of this Government he stood up for the “stable, rules-based order”.

Peters said in Question Time yesterday that the SIS was aware of Russian intelligence activity in New Zealand.

"People in the Five Eyes have consulted with us on our decision, understand our decision, and did so before the decision was made," Peters said.

Peters has been labelled soft on Russia by the Opposition after his name was missing from a Prime Ministerial press release that condemned the Salisbury attack.